Woodbury varsity football team enlists girl to solve kicking woes
When Lisa Huska steps onto the turf at Woodbury High School's football stadium tonight, it won't be the first time.
Huska, a high school senior, has logged many hours on the field as a member of the girls varsity soccer team.
But none spent donning a helmet and shoulder pads. Not until tonight.
In a bold move, WHS football coach Andy Hill went outside his program in search of a solution to the team's kicking struggles.
He said he thinks he's found his answer in Huska, a senior midfielder on the girls soccer team, who will be handling extra-point duties in tonight's Homecoming game against White Bear Lake.
"She's the best extra-point kicker at Woodbury High School right now," Hill said.
Huska, who Hill called "a machine," didn't miss an attempt in two straight days of practices this week, the coach said.
She and two other WHS girls soccer players - senior captains Kristina White and Bailey Lervick - also will be suited up on the sidelines. While the other girls must be ready to go if called on, Hill said he tapped them mostly to help insulate Huska's presence on the all-boys team.
All three, however, have shown promise as placekickers, Hill said.
"They proved themselves," he said. "Really, I don't think gender's got anything to do with it."
Huska, who also reached the 2012 state track meet in hurdles, said she's confident heading into the game. Nerves aside, she said she's ready to go.
"I just want to help the team, so I'll try," she said.
Hill said he first turned to the boys soccer program, but coach Joe Quintavalle declined to have his players try out for football with the soccer season still active.
So Hill approached Pat Malicki, the girls soccer co-head coach, and asked if his players would be willing to give it a shot. A few girls tried out and Huska showed immediate promise.
"It's different, but it's kind of the same," she said of kicking a football for the first time.
Hill said Malicki's terms were that if the girls were on board and their parents were OK with the decision, they were free to play on the football team.
Hill said the plan is to use Huska only in extra-point situations. The circumstances of an extra-point kick are acceptable, he said, since play stops after the kick - thus limiting Huska's exposure to contact with other players.
He said it's possible she could be involved in field goal attempts down the road, but the plan is to start off slow.
Initially, at least, things are looking good. Hill said Huska faced a live rush this week during practice to give her a feel for what will be coming from the Bears. She's also been consistently hitting 30-plus yard kicks, Hill added.
"Lisa is a beast kicker," he said.
Hill went in search of help last weekend after kicking proved a struggle for the 2-2 Royals. The kicking woes meant opting more often for the riskier two-point conversions.
Hill said that predicament led to the kicking search.
The team is light on experience and had been using a mix of junior Colton Johnson (10 kicking points through four games) and senior Solomon Kidane on kicking duties to varying degrees of success.
Other starters, including quarterback Sawyer Moon and running back Christian Alvarado, had tapped for kicking.
Nothing seemed to work, Hill said.
"If they were just OK we wouldn't be having this conversation," he said.
Hill said he knows the introduction of a female kicker might be a blow to some players' confidence, but he said he had to balance out the needs of the team - and add to the win column.
"It's not an indictment of the kickers we have," Hill said, adding that Johnson and Kidane will still be called on for other kicking duties, including kickoffs. "We just want to be more consistent.
"Right now this (works) for us. If it didn't I wouldn't invite the headaches."
Now it's a matter of sorting out the particulars. Like uniforms.
Hill said staff had to go in search of suitable jerseys for the girls. Fortunately for them, there were some laying around.
"We've got some smalls," Hill said.
Next, coaches had to show the girls the proper way to put on the equipment.
Suiting up in pads and a helmet is a "very weird" experience, Huska said with a laugh.
Hill said he informed administration of the decision to use Huska and received strong support.
He also brushed aside the abnormality of putting a girl into a live boys varsity football game.
"It's not a big deal," he said. "I think it's kind of cool."